Taking medication as prescribed shouldn’t be difficult. But when life gets busy we might forget a dose, especially if taking medication is not a regular habit (yet). In some cases, missing a dose is not a big issue. In other cases, it can be life-threatening. So if you are looking for a solution that helps you (or someone you care for) stick to your/their medication regime this article might lead you to the right option. Over the last few months, I have tested several mobile apps that allow you to schedule and remind you to take your medication and reviewed one of them – the Medisafe Meds and Pill Reminder app – in detail.
Before we go into the detail though, why would someone like me review medication reminder apps?
How did this review come about?
At the end of July 2020, my son Matt, who has cystic fibrosis, received new lungs. At age 26, Matt has been given a new lease of life and a quality of life he has never had before (all thanks to the generous gift of his donor and their family). The transplant though also means that Matt will have to take immunosuppressant medication for the rest of his life.
While Matt was fortunate (if you can call it that) that he had been taking drugs all his life, his new medication regime is different and very complicated. Also, as a transplant recipient, he needed to adjust his lifestyle significantly to minimize the risk of infection.
When Matt was released from the hospital, he received a paper notebook to document all his drugs and when he took them. We knew right away: With up to 30% of transplant recipients reporting missing medication doses or non-adherence to their medication regime, a paper notebook wasn’t going to do the job. These missed doses can lead to serious problems including acute rejection, chronic transplant damage and ultimately the failure of the organ. So, a better solution needed to be found.
I had used an app called My Pain Diary & Symptom Tracker for several years. I considered this as an option, but as I’d recently hanged smartphone operating systems and My Pain Diary didn’t support it, I wanted to see what else was on the market. And that’s how I stumbled upon the Medisafe Meds and Pill Reminder app (the Medisafe app in short).
For full disclosure, after I identified the Medisafe app as the best contender, I approached Medisafe, who provided Matt and me with Premium Subscriptions, knowing that I would be writing an unbiased review. Matt and I have been using the app now for three months.
What app features did I consider to be important?
Before starting my research and narrowing down the options I put together a list of features I felt were important:
- Scheduled reminders/notifications
- Reportability of data entered
- Good value for money
- Good customer reviews
- Available across multiple operating platforms (Windows, Android, iOS)
- Security, privacy and data protection (based on standards adhered to, encryption used, data storage policies, ability to remain anonymous)
- Data sharing (none or depersonalised) and remote accessibility (through cloud storage)
- Regular bug fixes and feature upgrades
- Developer credibility (based on tenure, standards adhered to, programming language).
What apps made it onto my shortlist?
Using my criteria list, I identified the following apps (in alphabetical order) which I then tested (to the extent possible):
- CareClinic Symptom Tracker & Pill Reminder
- Flaredown by Logan Merriam
- Manage My Pain
- Medisafe Meds & Pill Reminder
- My Pain Diary & Symptom Tracker Gold Edition
- MyTherapy Meds & Pill Reminder
- PainScale By Boston Scientific Inc (not available in New Zealand)
- Symple by Symple Health, Inc. (iOS only)
- TeamScope by TeamScope B.V. (B2B).
How does the Medisafe app work?
Firstly, you need to add the medication you are taking or plan to take. When you enter the drug name the app displays search results from its drug database. You can select the form of medication (for example, pill, solution, injection, drops, inhaler, etc) and strength (for example, g, IU, mcg, r, etc), and what you are taking it for.
Secondly, you need to enter whether you are taking the medication every day or only as needed, how often and at what time of the day you take the first dose. You may have medication, vitamins or supplements (in your medicine cabinet) that you only take occasionally, such as headache tablets. Make sure you add those to the app. That way, if you do take it, you can record it quickly and easily as an As Needed dose.
Finally, you can select the actual time for each dosage reminder. Reminders can be selected from a list of 14 different voices (including Darth Vader or Morgan Freeman) or customised. The app also allows you to change the medication icon, add medication instructions, limit the treatment duration and set up refill reminders.
The Medisafe drug database is comprehensive, containing both over the counter and prescription drugs. That said, if the drug you are taking is not in the database, you can manually add the drug name yourself. In our case, the drug database occasionally has US-based drug names, so you have to search for the generic or common name of the drug and even then it is not always there.
For drugs in the database, an information page outlines in plain English
- potential interactions with the specific medicine
- what happens if I miss a dose
- what I should watch for while using the medicine, and
- potential side effects?
Complex Dose Schedule
One feature where many of the other medication apps struggle is dose schedule flexibility. With Medisafe, you can select frequencies such as how many times a day (up to 12 times), every number of hours (from 1 to 12 hours), for a specific number of days, on a specific day of the week and more. I am yet to come across a schedule that the Medisafe app can’t accommodate.
US customers seem to be alerted when any of their prescribed medications should not be taken together. This is a powerful feature but unfortunately, one I wasn’t able to test as I am currently in New Zealand.
One of the best features of the app is that it sends reminders to your mobile phone (make sure your mobile phone is set up to receive notifications). You can choose to take your medication (and record it), skip it or snooze the reminder. I have set mine up so that the notification requires action before I can use my other phone functions.
The app allows you to set up a different time to take your medication on the weekend. How very thoughtful for those who like to sleep in. And if you change time zones, the app recognizes your location and alters the time accordingly. Even more thoughtful.
Another powerful feature of the app is its ability to send a missed medication notification to your Medfriend – a person whom you share your data with. If you forget to take a medication (or forget to record it in the app), Medisafe will send a notification to your Medfriend, so that they can remind you to take your medication. A good back-up, especially as you get used to a new medication regime. Your Medfriend would need to download the Medisafe app and create an account in order to sync with you. And you both need to have an internet connection for the information to sync.
When you initially add medication to the app, you can add the number of doses available. When the doses have reached a specific amount (of your choosing), you will be reminded to refill them. Matt set his refill reminder at 10 days before he runs out, but everyone’s situation will be different.
The app allows you to add your Doctor’s details, the medication they have prescribed to you and any appointments you have with them. This level of detail is great if you have a team of different medical experts managing your health (and medication).
Any platform or database service loses its appeal if you can’t share information, and this is where the Medisafe app itself could do better. The app’s reporting functionality is not easy to navigate:
- There is a report page but all you can do from here is export data to Excel (for all medications or a specific one in a daily, weekly, monthly or annual report format).
- From the measurements page, you can create a status report (in PDF format) and select the recipient you wish to send it to – yourself or your nominated doctor (if you allow access to your contacts and email account). For this report, you can select the From/To dates and medications you want to include. The report is sent instantly and incorporates your adherence (whether you have taken or missed medication) as well as any notes associated with your schedule.
Although not prominently promoted, there is a browser-version and in here, you show/hide scheduled and added doses and measurements as well as filter by seven variables all the while being able to download the data as a PDF or email to a recipient.
I would recommend that if you do want to export any data from the what you have entered, you use the Medisafe Patient Portal as the reports here are much more comprehensive. You just use the same credentials you used in the smartphone app in the web browser.
Health Measurement Tracking
For many illnesses, it’s important to not only record the medication taken but also specific health statistics such as blood pressure, blood glucose, pain levels, oxygen saturation (Sp02), temperature and weight. The Medisafe app allows you to record 20+ different measurements.
Privacy And Data Security
While it is always difficult to verify, Medisafe advises that they are HIPAA compliant, GDPR-compliant, ISO 27001 certified and utilize the highest-available 256-bit data encryption. Upholding these credentials as their standards means that they show a duty of care towards their users and the data that is entrusted to them.
The personal information you input into the app is unique and belongs to you. If your personal medical data was ever leaked, someone could use it for their own gain, to cause financial loss or harm your reputation. And it is very different from financial data, which is better protected and regulated. For example, if your credit card number was lost or stolen, you could block that number and have a new credit card issued.
Web-Based Patient Portal
As mentioned, there is a browser-version, but it is primarily limited to view and report functionality. You cannot fully manage, edit, or change your meds there. As explained by Brian Carr, VP Medisafe, these functions as app-centric to have a single source of truth as it were to prevent the possibility of under or overdosing when tracked in multiple instances.
Medisafe App Review
- Overall Rating
- Medication Management
- User Experience
This is a great all-round app with extensive features that are not always immediately obvious. As a free app, it fulfils the needs of the average medication taker, but the premium version means that you can collect a lot more data.
It is not a pain management app so does not have the features you may require if you suffer from chronic pain. That said, pain levels can be recorded as one of the measurements.
When you start adding your medication, the app guides you through its data collection process. While you can choose the form and create an icon for the medication, what is missing is the ability to take a photo of the pill or the medication packaging.
One of the strongest features of the app is its ability to enforce adherence through mobile technology. When you open the app, the screen displays today’s medication schedule. Using strong color coding and images, you can easily tell which medication has been taken (or missed). Of course, it does require that you have set up your medication and reminders correctly in the first place.
The app is not the most intuitive. When you first open the app it is not immediately clear what you are meant to be doing. That said, once you start adding medications it does lead you through the process step by step.
Also, some of the app’s features are not obvious. For example, the status report is not accessible through the reports page but through the measurements page. And on the measurements page, it is not obvious where you create the report. You have to play around a bit to get an understanding of the app.
Other improvement opportunities include the ability to search FAQs and sync doctor’s appointments with any email system.
As Matt’s Medfriend, I receive notifications when he missed a dose (or forgot to record it in the app). We experienced delays of up to 4 hours between the time he was expected to take the medication and me receiving the notification. If he indeed forgot to take his medication such a delay could be dangerous.
He uses an iPhone and I an Android phone, but that shouldn’t matter. This is another piece of functionality the Medisafe app can (and needs) to improve upon.
- Reasonably comprehensive free version (though for more complex needs, the Premium version is recommended)
- Great for diabetics as you can record your blood-sugar and add insulin as an As Needed medication
- Home screen timeline shows medication reminders and medical appointments
- Smartwatch users can see the medication reminder and record responses on their watch
- Doctor’s appointments only sync with Gmail
- Although the Help and Support section offers a large Frequently Asked Questions section, there is no search functionality so you need to scroll through the list of questions to see if the answer is there
- Can’t add an image to a medication or create a stand-alone report of notes
How much does the Medisafe app cost?
How do the app’s free and premium features compare?
The Medisafe app free version is already comprehensive. For our purposes, the value of the Premium version was its ability to capture unlimited measurements.
|No registration is required||All Free features plus (i) access to more theme colors, (ii) ability to change medication icon, (iii) priority support and (iv) no banner ads|
|Ability to capture 27 standard measurements||Ability to capture unlimited measurements|
|One Medfriend||Unlimited Medfriends|
|Receive up to 10 reminders per medication||Same|
|Alter notification times on weekends||Same|
|Snooze for 5, 10, 15, 30, 60 or 120 minutes, or until home/work (whenever you are reminded)||Same|
|Must record reason if medication is skipped||Same|
|Save locations to re-send snoozed reminders once at home/work||Same|
|Display notifications as popups, only when screen is on or not at all||Same|
|Set reminder text at a global level||Same|
|Set vibrate for reminders||Same|
|Show or hide medication name when receiving a reminder||Same|
|Set a daily reminder to take medications with you when you leave home||Same|
|Receive a daily reminder of any missed medications during the day||Same|
|Receive a weekly summary of medications||Same|
|Set refill reminder based on the number of pills remaining||Same|
|Automatic time zone detection||Same|
Feature photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash